“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
By Erin Hawkins
This quote which came from Dr. Kings speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A time to break the silence” was a call to arms against human complacency in the face of violence and oppression. The call is just as relevant today as when Dr. King first spoke those words almost 50 years ago.
We live in a culture where it seems like everything is urgent. Commercials convince us that we need the latest products to make our lives, happier, easier and more prosperous and that we need them right now! Drivers on the road honk angrily if others interrupt their ability to get to their destination quickly. In the church and world, leaders use the rhetoric of urgency to sell the masses on their latest proposal. It’s hard to consider anything truly urgent when it appears that everything is. And yet there are many issues in our church and society that require urgent change- mass incarceration, rights for immigrants, gun and education reform, the end of violence and war in our communities. Dr. King’s words ring true, with every passing day and with every passing news report of a mass shooting or the erosion of freedoms and opportunities around the world, we are confronted once again with the fierce urgency of now. These matters require our faithful attention and action now before another life is lost or another opportunity denied.
All to often the call for urgency is simply an argument for being ruled by fear. The persistent need to fix something or avoid something runs our agenda, sending us into a frenzy of self interested activity that leaves us frustrated and exhausted by the slow pace of progress. Does the broken justice system in the United States need to be fixed? Absolutely. Not simply because it’s broken, but because it is alienating an entire generation of black and brown people from opportunity while profiting from their pain, it perpetuates cycles of poverty and it diminishes the faith of the people in their right to be treated fairly in the eyes of the law. We must allow these realities to penetrate our hearts and let the sadness , outrage and impatience we feel become the source of our sense of urgency. I believe that the urgency needed today is one born in compassion for the marginalized and hurting, nurtured in the practices of Christian discipleship and expressed in acts of resistance to all forms of oppression. This is what distinguishes us as the church of Jesus Christ from other change movements. We begin and end with love of God and of neighbor as the foundation for our urgent action against the ills of the world. No other agenda except for the reign of God’s love, peace and justice over the earth and in the lives of all people is worthy of our fierce urgency.
Tomorrow is indeed today. One doesn’t need to look very far to see that the dream of Dr. King has yet to be fully realized. I pray that our hearts may be convicted anew to see the brokenness of the human family and to act with holy boldness so that every life may have the opportunity to reach its fullest potential.
Erin M. Hawkins is the General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) of The United Methodist Church. A noted leader, Hawkins is a transformative voice for change and innovation within the Church, initiating direct and authentic conversations about the future of the UMC. Her leadership at GCORR has focused on developing the capacity of the Church to be contextually relevant and to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people. A person of deep faith, Hawkins served at the local church, district and annual conference level before being appointed General Secretary in 2007.